Trusting the Experts Is a Sign of Spiritual Decline

Our society is no longer looking to God, Scripture, and tradition for answers to life’s most meaningful questions, but we were replacing such authorities with a new deity: the "Experts."

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Serious question: Are those things which the expert class mandates considered to be right because they mandate it, or do the experts mandate it because it is right? (Adapted from Plato, Euthyphro)

I am not even asking why the experts themselves make mandates or prescriptions, despite their hints of a god-complex. I am asking why the masses wholeheartedly embrace such mandates. Because what was once a Socratic question directed at the pantheon of gods has ironically become applicable to our modern pantheon of human “experts.” Faith and religion have not been sidelined. Instead, they have been dethroned from the Heavens above and demoted to the earth below.  

Writing in the early 1990s, Dr. Neil Postman observed that “when no scientist rises to demur, when no newspaper prints a rebuttal on its ‘science’ pages, when everyone cooperates, willfully or through ignorance, in the perpetuation of such an illusion” (162), then what we are witnessing is not science but rather “Scientism.”

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This so-called phenomenon, which professor Postman described with alarm 30 years ago, reached its global apex with Covid. That is, when nearly every medical authority from every government of every nation reaches the exact same conclusion, we have either achieved the most decisive victory in the history of science or something altogether different is taking place.  

In fact, now that even mainstream circles are finally admitting that cloth masks might not work, that the vaccines don’t prevent infection/transmission, that lockdowns are harmful, etc., it becomes all the more astonishing and confusing as to how people can continue to be so loyal to “the science” and so loathing of those that are not.

How can we possibly make sense of this? For all the helpful psychological analysis provided by proposals such as “Mass Formation Hypnosis/Psychosis,” it must be admitted that any grave society ill will be incomplete without a proper spiritual diagnosis.

Enter again Neil Postman, whose prognosis seems to have anticipated all of this. Postman contended that in 1990s America we were progressing more and more toward widespread acceptance of “Scientism,” which 

is the desperate hope, and wish, and ultimately the illusory belief that some standardized set of procedures called ‘science’ can provide us with an unimpeachable source of moral authority, a suprahuman basis for answers to questions like ‘What is life…What is right and wrong…How ought we to think and feel and behave? (162). 

In other words, our society was no longer looking to God, Scripture, and tradition for answers to life’s most meaningful questions, but we were replacing such authorities with a new deity.

How else do we explain not only the conformity but the unconditional devotion of the masses to “the experts”? Postman’s analysis would suggest that the experts would not possess such hypnotizing powers were it not for our decades-long quest to bureaucratize, standardize, and especially technologize absolutely everything in life.

That is, as we have become immersed in a world that promises continual progress through the manipulation of science and technology, we have transferred all of our religious impulses, even all of our logical impulses, to such a world.

Postman ultimately terms such a society a “Technopoly,” which, in short, is a society entirely defined by its technique and tools. That is, instead of tools conforming to culture, culture is itself conformed to the world of tools. Instead of technology supporting and nurturing the values of society, technology itself reforms the values of society to revolve around it.

Thus, all religious beliefs, symbols, and elements are hijacked and transferred from the supernatural realm to the technical realm. Postman notes that “Technopoly…consists in the deification of technology, which means that the culture seeks its authorization in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology” (71).  

Everything is redefined to conform to this new reality, such that key cultural concepts like “social,” “communication,” and “friend” take on a new meaning. To entertain, a word that originally meant “to hold together,” as in two people engaging one another, is now mostly done person-to-screen. Have a problem? Consult an expert—because the expert has consulted the data, and the data is the new sacred text (of course, just like Scripture, it has to be interpreted). Postman continues:

The god they serve does not speak of righteousness or goodness or mercy or grace. Their god speaks of efficiency, precision, objectivity. And that is why such concepts as sin and evil disappear in Technopoly. They come from a moral universe that is irrelevant to the theology of expertise…Sin and evil disappear because they cannot be measured and objectified, and therefore cannot be dealt with by experts. (90)

So, the experts become the equivalent of the priestly class. And, as our faith in scientism has led our society to trust the “expert” as “an unimpeachable source of moral authority,” then we can only conclude that, as it has previously been said of God and the Prophets, so it is now said of the expert class, the gatekeepers of this Technopoly.  

This is why it is anathema to criticize this class, as it is akin to a lack of faith in the whole religion of Technopoly. To question their intention is bordering on atheism, or, more aptly, ascientism. To reject the modern technological and scientific complex is to reject the source of goodness and justice itself. If it is blasphemous to call that which is good not good, then surely it is blasphemous to raise any doubts at all, as this is not a religion that has much room for free will or individualism. As the noted atheist and scholar Bertrand Russell prophesied in the 1950s:

The increasing power of officials is an inevitable result of the organisation that scientific technique brings about…scientific technique increases the importance of organisations, and therefore the extent to which the authority impinges upon the life of the individual…whoever questions the governmental dogma questions the moral authority…and is therefore a rebel. (The Impact of Science on Society, 33, 40-41)

As life becomes reduced to mechanical and technical ends, so interior life shrinks. Note that the reason the majority of the world is right-handed is because it is controlled by the left hemisphere, and it is this hemisphere which has an insatiable desire to see everything as a tool, as an object to be manipulated for efficiency and utility. And to be sure, this narrow lens which decontextualizes and so analyzes the distinct parts is indispensable for the advancements we have made in science and technology.   As life becomes reduced to mechanical and technical ends, so interior life shrinks.Tweet This

But the problem is that this requires a certain reduction of all of existence, such that some in the field of science and philosophy actually think that human identity is merely an illusion. After all, a person is simply made of trillions of physical cells, which are made up of other physical parts. 

All of reality becomes reduced to a radically empirical, anti-intuitive, anti-spiritual point of view.  John Paul Russo put it succinctly: “Left to itself, technology so thoroughly subordinates human ends to technical means that those ends are lost…Technology…is the system in which we live and move and have our being” (“The Humanities in a Technological Society”).

Henri Nouwen once commented that “the most interesting things in life often remain invisible to our ordinary senses yet are visible to our spiritual perception.” But a world bent on empirical means of arriving at knowledge and truth will always be a world less capable of spiritual perception, as we will constantly obsess over the material world at the expense of the immaterial. And, in so doing, we quickly forget that even the knowledge gained from such empirical study is, itself, mysteriously immaterial. 

But consider that it is possible that in this very moment, as you read these words, there are, surrounding you, immaterial forces at play. Every thought, every inclination, every action might just be captive to unseen spiritual realities, to entertaining angels or to demons, to hearing from God or His accuser, to Christ interceding or to evil intermingling. What if, right now, if only you could see it, the spiritual world is in your midst battling for your heart, soul, and mind? 

And yet, it is precisely this spiritual view of reality that we have forfeited. As Postman summarizes, “We have devalued the singular human capacity to see things whole in all their psychic, emotional and moral dimensions, and we have replaced this with faith in the powers of technical calculation” (118).  

Whatever critique we might level at the superstitions of the ancient pagan, we must give them credit for being deeply committed to the concept that the natural realm of earth was concurrently being shaped and ruled by the supernatural realm of Heaven. For not only modern man, but even the modern Christian seems to be mostly uninterested or unaware of this reality. Perhaps this would explain why so many otherwise devoted Church leaders and parishioners could do nothing but go along with, if not trust in, the experts during the pandemic. At the very least, we must admit that the spiritual vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth were far out of view.  

Plato noted in his dialogue with Euthyphro that the very seed of hatred, the key to making enemies, is when two or more people disagree on what is just and what is unjust. It is no wonder why traditional Christians appear to be the greatest enemy of our present culture. We fundamentally disagree with the most sacred judgments that our expert class has pronounced.  

And so, Christianity is not despised because our present world is areligious but, rather, because it is far too zealous. People do not believe in medically transitioning a nine-year-old girl into a boy because it makes logical sense. They believe it in adherence to their religious creed. Remember that those damned to destruction in Revelation are not damned for lack of devotion and worship but rather for devotion and worship to the wrong thing, that beast which deceives.  

At the very least, I think we can all be confident that if faith in the Triune God is a bit of leap, it is nowhere near as absurd as entrusting Providence to a bunch of bureaucrats. But, as disciples of Christ, we must “see through” this religious charade. We must understand that in order to do this, we cannot merely offer corrective lenses, but, more appropriately, we must remove cataracts.

Our aim is not merely to see the Beatific Vision of the Triune God but, even more, to behold such a vision as if it were our own because it is. To have this kind of spiritual vision will require much more than an explanation like mine, much more.  

In Canto 2 of Dante’s “Paradiso,” he warns his readers, “Turn back if you would look again upon your own shore.” That is, if we are to appropriately behold the vision of Paradise, we can never again see our material world the same. To get a glimpse of the Heavens is to utterly transform our vision of the earth. But Dante reminds us that in order to see Paradise, you must want to see it: “Thirst for the Kingdom of God carried us upward.”  

[Image Credit: AFP via Getty Images]


  • Aaron Ames

    Aaron Ames teaches classical philosophy to high school students in Kentucky. He has written articles for Touchstone Magazine, The Federalist, and the Imaginative Conservative.

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